Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Page from A Monsoon Diary in the Dooars

Does guava jelly keep monkeys away? I decided to find out when I saw that the guavas on the tree in the corner were beginning to ripen. They were small and woody and not worth the picking and eating. Those guavas can give the strongest tummy terrible aches.

Parrots and monkeys love these fruits. Parrots are okay, but monkeys! We have never been plagued by monkeys as we are here. We could handle regular visits by elephants who routinely destroyed our crops of corn and trampled or uprooted palms, banana and jackfruit trees. Elephants, we’ve seen, are destructive without any provocation, but after having suffered monkeys, I feel like putting out welcome mats for them.

We thought the monkeys would keep away if there was nothing to attract them so we picked all the guavas off the tree. Into a big vessel they went one evening and by morning the juice was ready to be made into jelly. We got one small bottle of a richly coloured jelly.  I smirked at having put off at least one monkey raid.

Yesterday the rogues were back. This time there were young ones too. Two or three sat on the swing, and they got it going. I could swear a couple more were pushing the swing. Maybe I am losing my mind. Another couple of little ones were on top of the slide, waiting to come down. Some had already torn flowers off the bushes here and there. I give up. I don't see myself making allamanda wine or hibiscus jam to keep the demons away. Any suggestions?

There are days and there are dull days and there are days when the excitement arrives just when you are about to drop off. A python entered the section behind the bungalow. It scared the wits out of Margaret, the ayah, and the chowkidar who saw it crossing the road as they were going home.  We heard about it at around 9.30. Mohan and the chowkidars made sure the cows and the calf were safe in their shed. I was worried about the calf, especially after reading about the two little boys killed by a python in a pet store owner's apartment in Canada.

Mohan popped up at 11.30 p.m. and told me not to feel scared about the python entering the bathroom or anything - that was really nice of him, considering I had forgotten all about it. Goodbye to all sleep for me that night. In the morning, we were all still excited. The python could be hiding under the bungalow. A gardener sprinkled some strong smelling insecticide all around to drive it away. Later, the estate chowkidars said they knew about the python; it lived in a section near the pump house and had been there for a long time. After a couple of days of being on the lookout, we guessed that it would have gone back there.

August is almost over, and by now we should all have been fed up of eating corn. We'd have it steamed at breakfast, or roasted on the cob on rainy evenings. It was a staple in the monsoon months when green vegetables were hard to come by.  All that is in the past, I now realise.  We don't grow corn any more, because the monkeys won't let it rise. We couldn't find any to buy either, and that was a mystery! The last time I found any in the daily 'haat' was in the month of May. I have now learnt that the Railways have forbidden the growing of corn anywhere near the tracks, and the Forest Department has forbidden the cultivation of corn anywhere in the region - that is, anywhere in the neighbourhood of the Buxa Tiger Reserve.

It's obvious that the Railways don't want any elephants wandering about near the train tracks. Corn is fodder, and it brings them into inhabited areas. With no solutions yet to the human-elephant conflict, the Forest Department and the Wildlife Department must put their faith in these short-term preventive measures, I suppose. And it is obvious that we must learn to eat frozen packed corn.

(Published in The Sunday Statesman and on


Kamini said...

Lovely! Every time I read your stories, I marvel at how different our worlds are! And yet I feel as if have been to your part of the country, so vividly do you capture its essence.

Santanu said...

Are you still there at Kalchini? I spent my childhood there.. it took me to nostalgia... thanks. santanu